February 12, 2014

Manzanita Ridge - Short Backpack Outings for Scouts

What backpacking outings make a young Scout really want to get back on the trail? I'm posting some of my favorites from my area, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area. These work as anyone's first backpacking trip, but emphasize group camping areas and short, fun trips.

Manzanita Ridge at Henry Coe State Park. Also check out the pages for The Pine Ridge Association, the volunteers who support Henry Coe SP.

  • 2.5-3 miles each way (depending on which campsite you choose)
  • gentle elevation changes

Manzanita Point has ten group camps stretched out along the end of the road. They all have their advantages, but don't underestimate the sites at the end of the road (8, 9, and 10).

Fees are $75/night for up to 50 people, which includes parking for five vehicles. It is $8 per night for each additional vehicle.

When camping at Manzanita Point, you are allowed to drive in two equipment vehicles. You are not allowed to shuttle campers back and forth to the campsite; campers must walk or bicycle to the campsite.

The road to the campsites is a ranch road, dirt, with ruts, and steep in places. I've driven it a couple of times in regular vehicles (a station wagon and a minivan), but it can get tricky when wet. Watch the rain forecast or bring a 4WD vehicle with an experienced backcountry driver.

The sites do not have water or trash service, so you will need to bring your water in and your trash out, either with vehicles or backpacking. One year, we were planning to drive the trash out, but it rained. I packed out the wet trash, trailing behind the troop. I weighed it when I got home -- 52 pounds.

There are some springs at Coe, but you'll need to check at HQ to see whether they are running. I would not rely on them.

There are three trail options for the middle part of this trip. The Springs Trail and the Forest Trail have less elevation change and go through meadows and forest, respectively. The fire road follows the top of the ridge, so it has more up and down, but some lovely views. A good option is to go to the campsite on the ridge, then choose either the Springs Trail or the Forest Trip for the trip back to headquarters.

This photo is from the ridge road. I'm pretty sure I took this standing in front of the Sada Coe pine.


This hike has a number of opportunities for plant and wildlife identification. It is common to see wild turkeys, areas where wild pigs have been rooting, an acorn woodpecker granary tree, pocket gophers, owl pellets, and so on. The three-way trail junctions (Springs, Forest, and Ridge Trails) are good opportunities for map and compass navigation.

Henry Coe is hot and dry in the summer, and the ranch road to the campsite is slippery in the rain, so this is best in late spring or fall. Winter is nice, too, as long as the road is dry (for driving to the campsite). The wildflowers usually bloom a little earlier here, so it can be lovely in late winter or early spring.


There are some nice trail maps online and you can buy an excellent map of the whole park at the headquarters. You can also order the Henry Coe map from The Pine Ridge Association.

They often have patches, too. That's great, because we know it is Scouting when there is a patch.

There is also a car camping site at HQ with 19 sites. We used that for a Scout Skills weekend, with a five (and a bit) mile hike to Manzanita Point and back.

If you want challenging hikes, Henry Coe has those too. You get deep into the park by crossing a series of very steep north-south ridges. There are not many people in the interior of Henry Coe State Park and it is a big park. You could do a 50 miler into the Orestimba Wilderness.

Posted by Walter Underwood (wunder@wunderwood.org) at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2014

Castle Rock State Park - Short Backpack Outings for Scouts

What backpacking outings make a young Scout want to keep doing this? I'm posting some of my favorites from my area, the southern part of the San Francisco Bay area. These work as anyone's first backpacking trip, but emphasize group camping areas and short, fun trips.

Castle Rock State Park

  • 2.8 miles between the trailhead and camp
  • -1200 feet to campsite, +1200 feet back

Castle Rock trail camp has 20 sites in two separated areas. This is an ideal place for patrols to camp separately, with the adults in another campsite. The campsites have water. Firewood is available for $7 per bundle at the campsite (bring exact change). Check the fire hazard warnings before going, because campfires are only allowed in the rainy season.

Pay fees at the (unstaffed) parking lot. Bring exact change to put in the envelope. The flap goes on your windshield and the money goes in the "iron ranger" (a pipe with a slot). Fees are $15/site (up to six people), which includes parking for one vehicle. Extra vehicles are $10 each. Campsites are first-come, first served. I've never seen all the sites full, even on busy spring weekends. Campsites are numbered 1-5 (Frog Flat area) and 11-25 (main camp).

A ranger will come by in the evening to check on you, so don't have a campfire during fire season.

Most campsite information is in the Castle Rock SP campground map. Additional info, including fees, is on the Skyline-to-the-Sea campsites info sheet, because the camp is part of that longer trail.

There are two trails to the trail camp, the Saratoga Gap Trail and the Ridge Trail. The Saratoga Gap Trail is dramatic, with most of it overlooking the San Lorenzo valley. On a very clear day, you can see to Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay. On a regular day there is a deep plunge at your feet and a view across ridges towards the sea. The Ridge Trail goes through a variety of forest areas, a large meadow, and has a short side trail to a lookout from the edge of the ridge.

You can hike a loop, going out on the Saratoga Gap Trail and coming back on the Ridge Trail. Go over this with your SPL beforehand. Our Scouts always seem to want to go back on exactly the same train they came in on.

Saratoga Gap Trail

Castle Rock SP has impressive stands of poison oak, on the trail and around some campsites. This is an excellent place for identifying poisonous plants. The two trails go through very different biological areas, giving a wide variety of plants, including wildflowers in the spring.

Castle Rock is also a great rock climbing area, so you may want to hire a climbing instructor and equipment for your trip. The climbing area is closer to the trailhead than to the camp, so you may want to break camp and meet your climbing crew at the rocks.

I have a soft spot for Castle Rock, because that was my son's first backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts. Our troop goes there almost every year.

For more details, I recommend One Night Wilderness: San Francisco Bay Area by Matt Heid.

Posted by Walter Underwood (wunder@wunderwood.org) at 08:19 PM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2013

Two new Scout-like groups

It is a busy week for alternatives to the Boy Scouts of America. On Tuesday, OnMyHonor.net announced that they sponsored a meeting to organize "a new scouting-like organization for young men". In today's San Francisco Chronicle, I read about DIY.org a maker-inspired group, Online DIY startup lets kids make good (sorry about the paywall). Odd that both groups actually use their URL as the group name. I'm waiting for that to go out of fashion.

The OnMyHonor.net-sponsored group is a direct reaction to the recent BSA membership policy change. It is planned to be an explicitly Christian Scouting group, "founded on principles and values that reflect a Christian worldview." They have promised that the policy "read, in part: 'the proper context for sexual relations is only between a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage.'" The membership policy "will focus on sexual purity rather than sexual orientation", so it appears that homosexual youth will be allowed membership, though they obviously will be considered impure.

DIY.org is described in the SF Chronicle article this way:

The San Francisco startup is trying to modernize the Boy Scout and Girl Scout model with dozens of awards, some conventional (Sailor, Woodworker) and other not so much (Open Sourcerer, Sys Admin).

DIY.org operates primarily through the website and phone app, with family participation. There are on-line groups and ad hoc meetups, but no local organized units.

So what do I think?

The OnMyHonor.net group takes US Scouting in a direction common in other countries, with faith-specific Scouting groups. France has many local and national Scouting organizations, including national ones described as: interreligious, Catholic, Traditionalist Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslim. There is also a regional group, Ecuyers Saint-Michel, organized around fencing. Obviously, faith-specific Scouting can work, but it seems like an uphill hike to get it widely established in the US. Our tradition of separation of church and state extends to other, non-government groups. The new group will likely be successful among conservative Christians, but I wouldn't expect it to get a lot bigger than the Royal Rangers.

Also, note that their Christian worldview is not my Christian worldview, nor the worldview of my family or my denomination, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. I was already tired of conservatives assuming that their family values were my family values. Now they are assuming that their Christianity is my Christianity, and they are still wrong.

As for DIY.org, well that story was in the business section. Despite the mention of Scouting, anything without patrols isn't even close to being Scouting. I'm sure it will be fun, but it mostly points multiple big holes in the Scouting program in the US: no presence in the mobile-connected world, split organizations for boys and girls, and disconnection with the technical world. The BSA already blew it big-time by not getting Venturing involved in FIRST Robotics. The teamwork in robotics competition is tailor-made for Scouting skills.

Neither group will have an impact on the BSA or the GSUSA. The fate of those groups is in their own hands. They need pay attention to what is working for the other groups and how to incorporate that into their own programs.

Posted by Walter Underwood (wunder@wunderwood.org) at 06:27 PM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2013

BSA Proposes "It Gets Worse" Policy

The Boy Scouts of America have a resolution on membership policy that will be voted on in May. This opens Scouting to gay youth, but leaves the adult rules unchanged. The adult rules do not allow "individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA." In other words, stay in the closet if you want to be a Scout leader.

So what happens when a gay Scout turns 18? Before then, they were moral enough to be a Scout, but now, an instant later, they are not. Before, they were accepted, but now, they are out. Bizarrely, they can be in and out at the same time, because they can be a youth Venturer until age 21 while forbidden to be an over-18 adult leader in Cub or Boy Scouts.

Bullying and suicide are a critical problem for our LGBT youth. The "It gets better" campaign has been a rallying point for encouraging youth to believe that there will be more acceptance as they grow up. You will be more accepted--it gets better. But this BSA proposal comes down solidly on the other side. It is OK to be gay as long as you are young, but once you turn 18, you might as well sell that uniform on eBay. We don't want you. Though if you can squeeze back into that closet, we'll take you.

Instead of "it gets better", the BSA would say "it gets worse". Gay youth are OK, but adults are out.

This cannot be justified on youth protection grounds. The BSA's YP advisory committee is quoted in the executive summary saying, “The nearly universal opinion among sexual abuse authorities is that same-sex sexual interest or same-sex sexual experience, either in adults or youth, is NOT a risk factor for sexually abusing children.” The all-caps "NOT" is in the original.

One thing is very clear, the BSA is not bowing to donors. With this proposal, the BSA continues to exclude gays and continues to be unacceptable to most large donors.

Outside of the moral issues, this policy could be a disaster for our council. The continuing discrimination against gay adults offends nearly all parents in our area and is unacceptable to sponsoring organizations.

I know of one Palo Alto troop that is on the verge of losing their charter organization because of the current policy. That decision is on hold waiting for a change in BSA policy. Our district office is in space leased from the city. Will they renew that lease? Tough call for the city, really.

Our local newspaper covered the district fireside chat on membership. Every single person at that meeting was in favor of opening membership to gays. The newspaper tried hard to find someone opposed (they even contacted me), but couldn't. You can read the article "Local Boy Scouts want change in sexual-orientation policy".

In February, a well-respected poll found that 78% of age 18-39 Californians were in favor of gay marriage. Not just gay rights, but gay marriage. These are the people who would be Scout parents, but they won't be, because they won't put their sons in an organization which is solidly in conflict with their family values.

Earlier, there was a leak about a proposed policy that opened membership at the national level, but allowed charter organizations to choose their membership. After some thought, I decided that was a good approach. For a very long time, the BSA has allowed "closed units", which only accept members from the charter organization. This might be a Catholic church, or maybe a home for developmentally-disabled adults registered as youth. Though I disagree with discrimination against gays, that approach would have allowed each organization to follow their own definition of "morally straight" while allowing all Scouts at Philmont or a Jamboree.

This proposal? It is logically inconsistent, solves almost nothing, and adds one more burden to the LGBT youth of our country.

Posted by Walter Underwood (wunder@wunderwood.org) at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)